This spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted the nation's biggest corn harvest ever. American farmers had planted 96.4 million acres of corn, the most acres in corn since 1937.
Then the drought of 2012 hits the nation's farm states, from Ohio to California. The USDA now expects the corn yield to be much lower - closer to 10.6 billion bushels, the lowest since 2006. That is still a lot of corn and enough to meet the world's needs and to ensure there are no shortages.
This has been definitely a tough year for farmers and tough for consumers in the coming months of higher food costs. But here's something to think about: Where would we be in this kind of widespread drought without the advances in biotechnology?
Biotechnology, be it applied to animals or plants, isn't popular. There is a misconception among some that because foods are produced via modern practices, the food is unnatural or unsafe.
But advances in seed technology have produced hardier, more drought-tolerant corn.
"Beginning in 1996, seeds were introduced that resisted insects and pests and were tolerant of crop production compounds. U.S. corn yields increased 36 percent, soybeans 12 percent and cotton 31 percent," said Jack Fisher of the Ohio Farm Bureau.
"It would have required farming an additional 106 million acres of crops from non-biotech seeds to match the explosion in production. These new-generation seeds also allow farmers to greatly reduce pesticide applications," he said.
The United Nations says that to keep up with population growth the world needs to double food production in the next 40 years. Farmers have to use modern technology, including new-generation seeds.
How far have we really come? In 1946, Dekalb Seed Co. sponsored a national corn growing contest. John and Glenn Smalls-reed were awarded first place in Trumbull County, producing 82.75 bushels of corn per acre. Seed companies still run tests on corn produced today. On the Smallsreed Farm in 2011, one such yield test was performed and showed more than 250 bushels of corn per acre. They couldn't believe it, so they ran the test again and the results were the same. Farmers put their best foot forward and tests are generally done on the most fertile, productive ground. Still the overall farm average was significantly higher than most years. The U.S. average corn yield across all states in 2010 was 152.8 bushels per acre, and in 2011 was 147.2 bushels per acre. Some 150 bushels per acre is still a far cry from 83.
Enter the drought. I would rather have a 25 to 27 percent reduction (a USDA estimate) in yield using modern seed and practices than that of practices of the past.
Two million farmers cannot feed 300 million people using the same technology that 30 million farmers used 50 years ago to feed 180 million people. Utilize the technology or decide who is going to go hungry.
Mary Smallsreed is a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau and grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.